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March 25, 2009

Pakistani region where the brutal Taleban are back in control
Stuart Ramsay in Mingora 
A man accused of burglary is questioned by a masked gunman who then casually 
lifts a revolver and pulls the trigger at point-blank range. The man staggers 
back but is shot again and falls to the ground. The gunman steps forward and 
fires three more bullets into his body and head. Nobody watching moves. 

The Taleban are back in charge, and this time in Pakistan. In Mingora only 110 
miles northwest of Islamabad, the capital, these hooded enforcers are the law, 
patrolling the streets and meting out summary justice. 

In front of large crowds they flog people who have broken edicts that the 
Taleban have set. Drug addicts and dealers are held down in the dust by heavily 
armed militants and flogged. They cry out in pain shouting for Allah. The 
punishment is brutal but has popular support. 

This beautiful valley region in central northeast Pakistan - once a popular 
holiday destination and described by the Queen during a stay here as the 
"Switzerland" of the former Empire - is now a Taleban mini-state where Sharia 
is applied ruthlessly. 

The Pakistani Army and its political masters have given up a two-year battle 
here and handed over control. It now looks and feels like Afghanistan in 2001. 
Taleban fighters in hooded masks with eye-holes guard the roads leading into 
Mingora. In the town black-turbaned outrunners wield wooden sticks to clear a 
path for a Taleban convoy of pick-up trucks. 

The Taleban have given us permission to visit, suspending their standing order 
to catch or kill all foreigners entering Swat. We are the first outsiders 
allowed in since they took control last month. 

Taleban headquarters is a pleasant villa in the centre of the city where black 
flags flutter above high double gates. Inside, in a walled garden, Taleban 
elders sit in groups on the grass, chatting and waiting for their next audience 
with Maulana Sufi Muhammad, their quasi-spiritual leader and political 

Several cover their faces when we reveal our camera. The old guard in 
particular still observes the fundamentalist belief that all pictures and 
images are an affront to the Prophet Muhammad. 

"Swat is the start and it is a test of the religion and the system and the law. 
It is a step forward. Give it time and you will see this is what people want," 
Muslim Khan, a charismatic English-speaking Taleban leader tells me. The 
Taleban have taken control here by overwhelming the security forces, in part 
with militia attacks on the army but predominantly with a staggering campaign 
of suicide bomb attacks. 

The ruins of government buildings, schools, barracks, police stations and 
checkpoints are everywhere. The central police station has been reduced to 
rubble. Police and army units live in the ruins, protected by sandbagged 
foxholes, and don't dare leave. The attacks have claimed the lives of thousands 
of police, army and civilians. In the end the security forces offered a 
one-sided ceasefire. In return for peace the Taleban can administer the region, 
run Sharia courts, ban women from marketplaces, outlaw music shops and stop 
girls older than 13 going to school. 

Mr Khan, who was educated in the US before returning to fight in Afghanistan, 
acknowledges that this region no longer belongs to mainstream Pakistan. "I send 
a message to the people of the West: stop spending your money on tanks and 
aircraft and attacking the poor people of the world. Look after your own poor 
people and let us be. You must be positive not negative. Change your policies 
you cannot win here or in Afghanistan. Keep out," he said. 

Pakistan knows that these images and stories will cause consternation in 
Western nations fighting the Taleban in Afghanistan, but the central Government 
has little control here now. 

It is this that worries Richard Holbrooke, America's Special Representative for 
Afghanistan and Pakistan, who believes growing instability and the 
Talebanisation of nuclear-armed Pakistan poses a bigger threat than the 
insurgency in Afghanistan. 

It is hard to gauge support for the movement in Swat. Dissent has been 
suppressed but a population disillusioned by years of fighting and ineffectual 
government can at least get on with their lives. One thing, however, is 
abundantly clear: in Swat the Taleban writ is the only one that counts. 

Stuart Ramsay, is Sky News' chief correspondent. Pakistan: Terror's Front Line 
airs on Sky News this week.

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